One of the keys to being a successful mentor is to know how to leverage your experiences so that you can be of help to protégés. If you are being sought out as a mentor, it suggests that you are recognized as a successful leader. However, being a successful leader does not always translate into being a successful mentor. That requires developing a different set of skills and asking a different set of questions.
It’s very helpful to consider how the protégé learns. Some people love to read studies, books, and scholarly articles that examine issues in a very thorough way. If your protégé learns well in this manner, then you will want to assign the right kind of reading. Other people prefer to read material that may only be indirectly related to their particular field because they are motivated to develop innovative approaches by connecting seemingly unrelated things. Providing new information is a key to being a good mentor, and the best mentors provide the right kind of information to the protégé.
Another question to answer is, “What kind of instruction do they prefer?” Some people prefer to be given direction and other people prefer directions. Determining which way to go with this issue may be the single most important thing in being an effective mentor. If you are someone who prefers direction, you may find it very difficult to break everything down into step-by-step directions. If you prefer directions and you are working with a protégé who simply wants direction, you will have to be very careful not to micromanage things.
Finally, pay attention to whether they are motivated more by logic or feeling. You can learn the answer by asking them to describe a satisfying result to a problem that they faced. If they describe the outcome as being one that made sense or improved a process, that’s a clue that they are motivated more by the language of logic. On the other hand, if they describe the result as being better because of how it made people feel, such as, “everyone was a lot happier”, then that is a clue that they are motivated more by the language of feeling.
Mentoring can be a bit deceptive. You often become recognized as a mentor because of your own success, and that can lead you to think that you have reached the summit of learning. However, that’s not quite the case. Being recognized as a potentially good mentor is really an invitation to focus on learning a new set of skills. You can do it, but just remember that what got you here isn’t necessarily what will get your protégé there!
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources